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Movies & TV / Columns

411 Talks w/Actor & Martial Artist Nicholas J. Verdi About His New Film Blindsided: The Game

May 23, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Blindsided: The Game

The 411 Interview: Nicolas J. Verdi

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Nicholas J. Verdi is a martial artist, actor, stunt performer, and cinematographer who has been in show business since 2012. Verdi has worked in both movies and television, including Supah Ninjas, True Blood, Close Range, Bone Tomahawk, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Verdi’s latest effort is the expanded short film Blindsided: The Game, directed by Clayton J. Barber and starring Eric Jacobus. Verdi plays the criminal Nico in Blindsided: The Game, the same character he played in the original Blindsided. In this interview, Verdi talks with this writer about Blindsided: The Game, his career as a stunt performer, and more.

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Bryan Kristopowitz: How did you get involved with Blindsided: The Game?
Nicholas J. Verdi: A few months before filming the first installment of Blindsided I received a call from Clayton. He was touching base with me because he had recently watched a short film I wrote and directed. It was a period piece I filmed in the mountains during the winter. It got very little response from my peers, but I received a few great responses from a number of professional filmmakers in town. Clayton expressed that he liked that I was doing something a little different from the rest of the pack and wanted to see if I would be interested in working with him. I had met him a year prior while helping assist David Wald, who was running camera and editing the boxing sequences on the Creed previz Clayton was coordinating. I knew Clayton was extremely passionate about creating unique content in film and I wanted to travel down that road with him.

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BK: How did you approach your character Nico?

NJV: Nico is that guy you want to see get hurt or lose. That guy you want to knock out, but you are not exactly sure what he is capable of doing. He puffs his chest when he has the upper hand but deep down inside he is just an insecure thug with a complex. When I read the first script I imagined Nico as this hard-ass Midwestern Italian guy with a short fuse. I like to think I pulled a little bit of Nico out of a few people I had passed in my life growing up outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Nico was a great character to portray. I enjoyed bringing him to life and I hope you love to hate him.

BK: How difficult was it to work as an actor, stunt performer, and cinematographer on Blindsided: The Game? How did you balance all three roles? How did you develop an interest in cinematography?

NJV: It was extremely difficult. I don’t think I will be taking that same journey anytime soon in my career. I believe that in order to be truly great at something you have to focus your attention on that one thing you want to be great at. I know that being a filmmaker requires juggling multiple departments, but that is why there are multiple department heads on one singular production. We did not have the luxury of hiring a full size team so we all had to balance multiple jobs. I do have to say that everyone did an incredible job, but it always leads me to think, what could we really achieve if we were given the luxury to not extend ourselves too far? I would be lying if I said I did a great job of balancing all three roles. I was constantly balancing my abilities to set up the tone and look of the film while jumping into the hostility I wanted to convey for Nico. All I can say is that I was lucky to have the team I had, to back me up when I needed it. Everyone involved in this film from our set PA’s to our camera department worked so hard to help make this production come to life. Years ago before I got into the film business I was a professional editorial and commercial photographer. Most of my work was building portfolios for models who were either signed with an agency or looking to sign. I primarily shot stills, but I was always producing video content alongside of my work. That was a short lived life as it was not truly my passion, but I am constantly pulling from my past experiences as a photographer.

BK: What was it like working with director Clayton J. Barber?

NJV: I had mentioned before that Clayton is extremely passionate. Even if you strip away his passion, you still get an incredible actor’s director. I say actor’s director because I believe there are multiple different types of directors. Some directors have an extensive knowledge on the technical side of filming. They are great with the camera, angles, edits, etc. yet lose steam when it comes time to develop what’s really going on in the scene. Other directors sit back and say very little allowing everyone to make their own judgement calls. There is truly a need and space for every type of director which makes every film so unique. Clayton has the special ability to connect with the performance and the reasoning behind the performance within a scene. As a character in this film I can tell you first hand that this was a huge benefit. Having someone help you achieve truth and realism within your performance without micro managing your instincts is so valuable. He has the ability to pull performances out of individuals that adds incredible depth. We were taxed on time, I can only imagine what else we could have discovered within ourselves if we had more time with Clayton. Passion and the understanding of how to achieve a great scene is a deadly combination in the film business.

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BK: How did you get involved in the stunt industry? Was it something that you always wanted to do or is it something that you figured out you wanted to do later on?

NJV: I wanted to be a stuntman as early as I can remember. I am not exactly sure if there was a defining moment in my life that set a fire, but I had a burning desire to be a professional stuntman from a young age. I remember in grade school that I was heartbroken to discover that my career aptitude test said I was going to be a police officer or firefighter. I wanted to be a stuntman and did not understand why that was not a career choice. My father was a firefighter who was fearless, continually going into burning buildings to save lives, but even though I grew up in and around the fire house I always dreamed of being a stuntman. I grew up in the Midwest, an hour east of Cleveland on Lake Erie and a professional stuntman was not exactly viewed as a real career option. It was not until my mid-to-late twenties when it actually became a possibility. I believe the start of my career is attributed to my now friend and mentor Hiro Koda. He found me through an audition he held when he was coordinating a Nickelodeon TV Show in Pittsburgh. A year later my wife and I packed up our life and drove west.

BK: What’s the toughest stunt you’ve ever had to perform?

NJV: I don’t believe I can label one stunt as the toughest or hardest stunt I have had to perform at this point in my career, but I certainly can pick out a number of days that were extremely harsh on my body. The one that is towards the top of my list was on a TV show two years ago. It was a second unit day that was non-stop action. I started off the night with a nice ratchet(wire pull) into the side of a school bus, followed by a ratchet out the back of the bus traveling 30 feet above the pavement where I had to climb up my fellow coworkers body while suspended in the sky. The evening ended with a 15 foot drop onto the top of the bus yet the whole night was sprinkled with bits of choreography that involved me getting my ass handed to me. That evening is certainly at the top of my list as one of the hardest days in my career and yet one of the most exciting days, as well.

BK: How did you get involved with the Marvel TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

NJV: My extended work over the past two seasons is because of its current fight coordinator David Wald. I met Mr. Wald years ago while working for Hiro Koda on an episode of True Blood. I was paired up with him to do a little fight sequence, not realizing the extent of his monstrous career. I was young in the business and slightly blind to the opportunities I received and the legends I got to work with. Years later Mr. Wald called me to perform a fight sequence with Scott Adkins on a film he was coordinating. I am always grateful that Mr. Wald continues to call on me, not only for an opportunity to work but the opportunity to be placed in the hot seat. He has undeniably helped me grow as a stunt man.

BK: You worked as a stunt performer on the video game Star Wars: The Old Republic- Knights of the Eternal Throne. How did you get involved with that project, and how is working on a video game different than working on a movie or TV show? How is it the same?

NJV: A friend of mine called me to be a part of the promotional trailer. I was excited because I worked with Lucasfilm on a commercial years prior and it is a company that has great pride in their process and final product. Motion capture is a unique world from classic film and television. In some aspects I believe it challenges you far greater as a performer than on a classic film set. In the video game world or motion capture world there is nowhere to hide. Your performance is being captured by 10 times the amount of data processing cameras inside the volume, so there is very little room for error in movement. You are exposed in the open for everyone to see. In regards to similarity, I believe the two worlds are becoming cohesive as we are seeing the rise of motion captured performances in film.

BK: Who are your moviemaking heroes?

NJV: I don’t have any singular heroes, as I know producing a final product is the culmination of multiple department heads coming together to create something special. I am not saying I am not inspired by the vision or leadership of a great director or director of photography, but simply that my inspirations come from moments within a film. When I watch a feature or television show I look for light, shadow, camera move or lack of move, performance, writing, and score. I latch onto those key factors within a scene. If it makes me feel something or sticks with me then I mentally catalog it and refer back to it for inspiration. There are so many amazing filmmakers from the past and those who are currently working, that it is difficult to even select a handful.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

NJV: I recently had the opportunity to work for PIXAR, but unfortunately I am unable to go into any details. It was an incredible experience being on their campus.

BK: How difficult is it to work with only nine fingers?

NJV: Thug life is rough when you lose your ability to pull the trigger. That is why you always train both sides.

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A very special thanks to Nicholas J. Verdi or agreeing to participate in this interview and to david j. moore for helping set it up.

Check out the Blindsided: The Game Facebook page here.

Check out my review of Blindsided: The Game here.

Check out the Nicholas J. Verdi imdb page here and iStunt page here

All images from the Blindsided: The Game Facebook page.

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